When celebrities lose their relevance

I remember the good old days when Jim Carrey was relevant.

1994–25 years ago–was huge for Carrey. That was the year of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber.

Carrey peaked a few years later with The Cable Guy, and a role in Batman Forever.

Carrey had a schtick, and it ran its course a generation ago.

But what does a once-popular celebrity do when his best days are behind him?

In Carrey’s case, he whiles away the time making third-grade level art in an attempt to bolster bizarre conspiracy theories:

Actor Jim Carrey, who often uses his visual artwork for advocacy, posted a new image on Twitter Sunday that expresses outrage at President Donald Trump in the wake of the mosque killings in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Carrey’s new artwork shows Trump’s head, with an angry, soulless expression and a Nazi swastika on the forehead, as a blazing asteroid streaking toward Earth.

 

 

 

Now, however you might feel about Donald Trump…This is kind of…dumb, I believe the word is.

Sigh…I miss the 1990s, too, Jim.




Revolutionary Ghosts, Chapter 16




My bedroom was a small, cramped affair, very typical of secondary bedrooms in postwar tract homes. There was barely enough room for a bed, a desk, a dresser, and a chest of drawers. The one selling point of the bedroom was the window over the bed. It afforded me a view of the big maple tree in the front yard, when I felt like looking at it.

I lay down on my bed and opened Spooky American Tales. I briefly considered reading about the Nevada silver mine or the Confederate cemetery in Georgia.

Instead I flipped back to page 84, to Harry Bailey’s article about the Headless Horseman.

After the opening paragraphs, Harry Bailey explained the historical background behind the legend of the Headless Horseman. While most everyone knew that the Headless Horseman was associated with the American Revolution, not everyone knew the particulars:

“Is the Headless Horseman a mere tale—a figment of fevered imaginations? Or is there some truth in the legend? Did the ghastly Horseman truly exist?

“And more to the point of our present concerns: Does the Horseman exist even now?

“I’ll leave those final judgments to you, my friends. 

“What is known for certain is that on October 28, 1776, around three thousand troops of the Continental Army met British and Hessian elements near White Plains, New York, on the field of battle. 

“This engagement is known in historical record as the Battle of White Plains. The Continentals were outnumbered nearly two to one. George Washington’s boys retreated, but not before they had inflicted an equal number of casualties on their British and Hessian enemies…”

By this point in my educational career, I had taken several American history courses. I knew who the Hessians were.

The Hessians were often referred to as mercenaries, and there was an element of truth in that. But they weren’t mercenaries, exactly, in the modern usage of that word.

In the 1700s, the country now known as Germany was still the Holy Roman Empire. It consisted of many small, semiautonomous states. In these pre-democratic times, the German states were ruled by princes.

Many of these states had standing professional armies, elite by the standards of the day. The German princes would sometimes lease out their armies to other European powers in order to replenish their royal coffers.

When the American Revolution began, the British government resorted to leased German troops to supplement the overburdened British military presence in North America. Most of the German troops who fought in the American Revolutionary War on the British side came from two German states: Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Hanau. The Americans would remember them all as Hessians.

The Hessians had a reputation for brutality. It was said that no Continental soldier wanted to be taken prisoner by the German troops. The Continentals loathed and feared the Hessians even more than the British redcoats.

I supposed that Harry Bailey would have known more about the Hessians than I did, from my basic public school history courses. But Harry Bailey wasn’t writing an article for a history magazine. The readers of Spooky American Tales would be more interested in the ghostly details:

“That much, my dear readers, is indisputable historical record. Journey to the town of White Plains, New York, today, and you will find monuments that commemorate the battle.

“But here is where history takes a decidedly macabre turn, and where believers part ranks with the skeptics. For according to the old legends, one of the enemy dead at the Battle of White Plains would become that hideous ghoul—the Headless Horseman. 

“A lone Hessian artillery officer was struck, in the thick of battle, by a Continental cannonball. Horrific as it may be to imagine, that American cannonball struck the unlucky Hessian square in the head, thereby decapitating him. 

“What an affront, from the perspective of a proud German military man! To have one’s life taken and one’s body mutilated in such a way!

“So great was the rage of the dead Hessian, that he would not rest in his grave! He rose from his eternal sleep to take revenge on the young American republic after the conclusion of the American Revolution.

“This is the gist of Washington Irving’s 1820 short story, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. The tale is set in the rural New York village of Sleepy Hollow, around the year 1790. 

“But we have reason to believe that ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ was not the last chapter in the story of the Headless Horseman. For according to some eyewitness accounts, that fiendish ghoul has returned again from the depths of hell. 

“Read on, my friends, for the details!”

Lying there on my bed reading, I rolled my eyes at Harry Bailey’s florid prose. He was really laying it on thick. But then, I supposed, that was what the readers of a magazine called Spooky American Tales would require.

Then I noticed that the hairs on my arms were standing on end.

My gooseflesh hadn’t been caused by the article in Spooky American Tales—at least, I didn’t think so. I hadn’t yet bought into the notion that the legend of the Headless Horseman might be anything more than an old folktale.

Nor was the temperature in my bedroom excessively cold. Three years ago, my parents had invested in a central air conditioning system for the house. They used the air conditioning, but sparingly. It sometimes seemed as if they were afraid that they might break the air conditioning unit if they kept the temperature in the house below 75°F. With the door closed, it was downright stuffy in my bedroom.

I had an unwanted awareness of that bedroom door, and what might be on the other side of it.

The shape I had seen in the hallway.

Then I told myself that I was being foolish.

It was a bright, sunny June day. The walls were thin, and the door of my bedroom was thin. I could hear the muffled murmurs of the television in the living room.

It wasn’t as if I was alone in some haunted house from Gothic literature. I was lying atop my own bed, in my own bedroom, in the house where I’d grown up. My parents—both of them—were only a few yards away.

There is nothing out there in the hall, I affirmed.

With that affirmation in mind, I continued reading.

 

Chapter 17

Table of contents

Donna Brazile to Fox News

This is a surprise.

Brazile has issued a statement on the Fox News website, in anticipation of her new gig:

In order for us to best decide as a people how to better protect and preserve our way of life, we need to first be able to hear what others are saying without the filter of bias and contempt. Not until we once again become practiced at treating those of differing views with civility and respect can we begin to join together to solve the myriad of problems our country must overcome.

I’ve watched Donna Brazile for many years. She is something of a race-baiter, and (to her credit, I suppose) she doesn’t hide her intentions.

Her statement, when you read  the whole thing, is quite conciliatory. I hope she is treated well and has a good experience on Fox.

Although Donna Brazile is certainly a big name in the public square, Fox has always maintained a small contingent of leftwing commentators who can serve as foils for its conservative anchor talents.

I’m sure Brazile is being handsomely remunerated for this new role of hers.

Should college be free?

During the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders famously ran on the promise of free higher education, making him the hero of millions of college students. Free college will doubtless become an issue in 2020 as well, with Democratic Party candidates making big promises.

This raises the question: Should college be free?

The answer is complicated. When public resources are completely free, economists have found that a situation called, “the tragedy of the commons” arises. Free public resources are almost always misused and overused.

Moreover, there is nothing wrong with the basic notion that each of us has some responsibility to fund our own future development—and that of our children.

Students and parents should, therefore, have some skin in the game. So to state my conclusion from the outset, no, college should not be completely free.

But this does not mean that the present situation is fair, acceptable, or sustainable over the long term.

I graduated from college many years ago, but the children of many of my friends and relatives are presently going through the college application process. I’ve seen the sticker shock, and I don’t dismiss it. Suffice it to say that parents and students are being overcharged at a level that is borderline criminal.

But is the solution to socialize a corrupt and overpriced system? This is what Bernie Sanders and other progressive candidates of the Democratic Party essentially propose.

And on that one, I can’t agree.

 


 

Let me give you an old-timer’s perspective: I began my last full year of college in the fall of 1989. I attended the University of Cincinnati. My annual tuition, as a full-time student, was $3,000.

Yes, I realize that 1989 was a long time ago. There was no Facebook, we typed our term papers on electric typewriters, and dinosaurs roamed the wooded areas at the fringes of college campuses. No one expects anything to cost exactly what it did thirty years ago.

So I checked the inflation-adjusted amount on one of the many consumer-price index (CPI) calculators available on the Internet. When you bring three thousand 1989 dollars into the present, the figure you get is $6,075.

That means that a year of tuition for a full-time student at the University of Cincinnati should cost about about $6,100 per year, or $24,400 for a 4-year degree.

But full-time, in-state tuition at the University of Cincinnati does not cost $6,100 today. In-state tuition at the University of Cincinnati costs about $12,000 today. So students are paying about twice what I paid in 1989.

This makes absolutely no sense. In 1989, of course, we didn’t have the Internet. Everything was done manually, in-person, with lots of labor costs.

And I mean everything. I remember standing in line for hours outside the registrar’s office at UC in the hopes of signing up for a particular class. This involved not only thousands of students, but dozens of clerical workers, who manually entered changes to our schedules.

Our initial schedules, at the beginning of each quarter, were mailed in to the registrar’s office. This meant that someone had to open each envelope, and keypunch it into the school’s mainframe computer.

Today, of course, all of that is done online, largely without the need for any human intervention—or labor costs.

Almost all college students seem to be taking at least some online classes nowadays. This, too, was impossible in 1989. Every minute of instruction involved a real live professor, standing in front of a group of real live students, inside a physical space that had to be heated during the winter months, and air conditioned during the warm months. The lion’s share of those costs can be avoided when a course is conducted online.

 

 

College, then, should be much cheaper for today’s students than it was for the students of my day.

Let me retract what I previously said: College tuition in 2019 should cost what it cost in 1989—exactly what it cost in 1989: About three thousand dollars per year at the typical state university.

The question we should all be asking is not: “Who should pay the presently inflated tuition costs?” but rather: Why are universities so inefficient, that they can’t offer a product whose price reflects the efficiencies gained through the Internet and digital technologies?

College in the Internet Age should be dirt cheap, little more than a nuisance cost for most families. Instead it’s become a major investment—or in many cases, a major money pit.

 

Part of the problem is administrative bloat. Universities all have much larger administrative staffs today than they did in 1989. And I’m not talking about hourly clerical workers. I’m talking about professional, non-teaching administrators who haul down six-figure salaries.

Some of these salaries rival corporate CEO-level compensation. Let’s look at some concrete examples. During the 2016-17 school year, James Ramsey, then the president of the University of Louisville, made $4.3 million. The University of Cincinnati’s president, Neville Pinto, has an annual salary of $660,000. The president of Northern Kentucky University has a base salary of $440,000.

Speaking of NKU, in 2012 it was announced that the ex-president of that institution, Jim Votruba, would be paid $287,675 to teach only two classes. With additional benefits, his total compensation—for teaching two classes—totaled $371,000.

These are some pretty extravagant compensation packages, when you consider the scope of the student debt crisis. This also represents a transfer of wealth—from students, their parents, and taxpayers—to a small group of educational elites.

 

 

Universities also have a tendency to go on wasteful construction sprees. When I was a student at the University of Cincinnati, we used to joke that “UC” meant, “under construction”, because the university was always tearing down existing buildings, and constructing new ones.

I recently drove by the UC campus. I noted that at least two of the buildings constructed at great expense during my student days had since been torn down and replaced.

Now, granted, I am aware of my age, and aware that thirty years have passed. Nevertheless, there are buildings in Europe that have literally been inhabited for centuries. An academic building constructed with taxpayer and tuition dollars in 1988 or 1989 should still be perfectly serviceable.

 

 

Why are university administrations so wasteful? Mostly, because certain factors have shielded them from market forces.

Universities have, first of all, a monopoly on credentials. Some people do attend four years of college for the experience, and the actual education…such as it is nowadays. Most, however, are there for the sheepskin. Or rather, the doors that the sheepskin can open. If you want to land a professional job, you have to hold a diploma from an accredited, four-year university.

In this regard, things haven’t changed since my younger days. But the situation has gotten even worse. Colleges are now aggressively peddling worthless degrees in subjects like, intersectional gender studies, for example. Degree inflation, and the belief that college confers magical powers of competence on otherwise wet-behind-the-ears eighteen year-olds, has sent even more young people through the doors of these institutions over the past thirty years. The result is that it is now common to meet a twentysomething waitress or hourly Home Depot employee who has a four-year degree.

 

 

What can be done about this? About twenty years ago, there was a movement toward private sector, profit-based educational institutions that might break the university monopoly on credentials. You’ve heard of at least some of these, like the University of Phoenix, and Capella University.

That didn’t work out so well. Why not? Not because these institutions were doing anything wrong, necessarily, but because corporate employers, mired in their allegiance to the monopolistic university system, refused to recognize degrees from for-profit institutions. The net result was that thousands of students invested money in degrees from for-profit colleges that turned out to be worthless.

Perhaps for-profit educational institutions aren’t the answer. Nevertheless, we should be exploring ways whereby a person can earn credentials without the involvement of a traditional university.

One possibility would be a series of standardized tests. These have long been employed in fields like IT certification. The basic idea is, if you pass the test, you have the credentials. This obviously wouldn’t work for all fields. (No one wants to be treated by a self-taught brain surgeon.) But it should be possible for degrees in fields like business administration. And since so many universities are conducting their courses online anyway nowadays, self-study wouldn’t really be that much different from what you now do at an accredited, four-year university. Oh…except you wouldn’t have to take on tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt to study on your own for a standardized test.

 

 

But perhaps the most corrupting factor in the university system is the presence of third-party payments. I’m talking, of course, about government-backed student loans.

Third-party payments always increase costs. (This is why medical care is so overpriced in the United States, too.) University administrations realize that they don’t have to provide a product at a cost that the average 18- to 23- year old can afford. The reason is, they know that college students will ultimately be relying on government- (i.e., taxpayer-) backed loans. This means that the universities have access to an almost unlimited pipeline of ill-gotten money. Why should they worry about reducing their costs, or taking advantage of efficiencies brought about by the Internet?

Ironically, the corrupting influence of these third-party payments is exactly what the Democratic Party wants to increase in the system.  If college were to become completely free (completely government-funded) university administrations would become even more inefficient and wasteful than they presently are.

 

 

A far better approach would be to ask ourselves: How can we incentivize more economically efficient behavior on the part of universities, so that tuition might be affordable for the average college student?

The answer is the exact opposite of what Bernie Sanders has proposed. But no one ever said that Bernie Sanders has a grasp on economics. We should, on the contrary, phase out all government money in the university system. Require them to make do only on what they take in from their customers: students and their parents. If they can’t provide an affordable product, they’ll lose their customer base. That reality has a way of incentivizing efficient behavior.

This is exactly what automobile manufacturers, Amazon.com, and all other private-sector businesses do. They structure their operations so that they can provide products and services at prices that their customers can afford.

But we have succumbed to the myth that educational instruction is so sacred and complicated, that it can’t possibly be subjected to market forces. We believe this, even though what universities do is considerably less complicated than what Toyota or Amazon.com do. This is a myth that has been eagerly perpetuated by the higher education aristocracy. They have no desire to be subjected to market forces, just like everyone else.

I know: Many of you will consider this a radical proposal. Admittedly, it might not be doable overnight. But we could take baby steps in this direction.

We might start by changing the focus of the higher educational debate. Rather than squabbling about who is going to be taxed to support the inefficient and corrupt practices of university administrations, we all need to ask ourselves: Why is their product so overpriced to begin with?

This question, and our insistence on asking it, will be the first step toward making college affordable for students and their parents… as it should have been, all along.

 


Bring back Jeanine Pirrro

BRING HER BACK: Trump tells Fox News to bring back Jeanine Pirro:

Pirro was allegedly fired for “Islamophobic” remarks. In the current environment, this means questioning the motives of Minnesota Rep Ilhan Omar.

There are, however, no apparent qualms about Ilhan Omar bringing the tribal concerns and blood feuds of the Muslim Middle East into the US Congress.

Political correctness creates its own set of priorities, doesn’t it?




Richard Nixon, of all topics?

Per the Charlotte Observer:

CNN debuts the first part of a four-part docuseries exploring the life of President Richard Nixon, tracking his rise, fall and incredible comeback. The series will cover Nixon’s early political maneuvers in California and the game-changing Kennedy-Nixon debates through his disgraceful Watergate exit.The series features never-before-seen footage.

I doubt that most Americans born since 1990 even know who Richard Nixon was. Nevertheless, CNN will begin a four-part series on him tonight at 9 pm.

CNN is not The History Channel. If it’s reaching back 50 years (Nixon took office in January 1969), there’s a motive here. And given the ideological biases of CNN, we can bet that the motive is: to cast the GOP in an unfavorable light.

During my early childhood years, Nixon jokes were all the rage. (As coincidence would have it, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974–my sixth birthday.)

I recall one sitcom scene (I forget which sitcom) of the era, in which a child was required to memorize the US presidents. When he realized that he had forgotten Nixon, another child made the unlikely quip: “That’s okay, everyone is trying to forget him!”

Cutting-edge humor, to be sure, in 1970-something. In 2019, however, Richard Nixon really is a topic best left to The History Channel.

That is, of course, unless CNN has another motive (?)

 


Book break: ‘To the Last Man’, by Jeff Shaara

I am enjoying Jeff Shaara’s novel of World War I, To the Last Man.

This novel features famous characters, like General “Blackjack” Pershing, and Manfred von Richthofen (otherwise known as “the Red Baron”). There are also some lesser known characters who participated in the Great War.

This is perhaps the third or fourth Jeff Shaara novel I’ve read. His novels are so detailed, so meticulously researched, that they are somewhat akin to docudramas (especially the chapters written from the POV of the historical figures).

The result is that his books are bit dense, compared to the latest potboiler from James Patterson, or the most recent legal thriller from John Grisham. Shaara clearly writes to inform as well as to entertain.

To the Last Man is not a quick read, but it’s a rewarding one. If you like historical fiction and military themes, this is one you shouldn’t miss.


Just blame Trump for the New Zealand shootings

Recently the left blamed Chelsea Clinton for the mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand last week.

Now Amy Klobuchar–easily the most ignored and ignorable member of the 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful pack–has gone back on the standard leftwing script.

In other words, she’s blaming Trump.

“I don’t think you can actually take each of the murderous acts and say what role Donald Trump played, but I can tell you this: his rhetoric doesn’t help,” Klobuchar said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.

What helps even less than Trump’s rhetoric, of course, is the twenty-year wave of Islamic terrorism in the West, and the violence of Islamic radicals throughout the Muslim Middle East.

What happened in New Zealand last week was tragic and horrible. But let’s be clear: If there is a problem with “Islamophobia” in the West, it doesn’t have much to do with Donald Trump. If you’re looking for the roots of “Islamophobia”, you might go back to 9/11 instead.

We can acknowledge this uncomfortable truth while still stating unequivocally that what happened in Christchurch, New Zealand was a horrific crime.

Yes, the media is biased

For two years Reuters sat on a news story that would have been unfavorable to Beto O’Rourke. They wanted to wait until the Democrat had beaten Ted Cruz in the 2018 Senate race–which (oops!) he didn’t.

Are all mainstream media news reports biased? No. I have heard that the weather report is occasionally produced and aired without any ideological considerations.

***

Check out the book,  Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind by Tim Groseclose.